Bayern boss Jupp Heynckes (R) will rely on Philipp Lahm (L) to stop Cristiano Ronaldo.
It's finally here. The UEFA Champions League semifinals are upon us, and we have been gifted the luxury of two golden matchups. Tuesday’s tilt pits Bundesliga giant Bayern Munich against the prolific Real Madrid at Allianz Arena in Munich. Will Bayern’s three headed monster of an attack featuring Arjen Robben, Frank Ribery and Mario Gomez be able to keep pace with Real’s torrid goal-scoring streak? There are plenty of faces and feet to keep an eye on in this final four matchup. Here’s a list of the players to watch... but try not to blink because these teams can score just about any moment.
Cristiano Ronaldo, F, Real Madrid
Forty-one goals in La Liga, fifty-three goals over all, and this guy’s under the radar? The Portuguese hit man is having a career year but all eyes are in Barcelona where Lionel Messi is rewriting the history books. And believe it or not…that state of affairs might actually be working to Ronaldo’s advantage. The pressure is off him and he’s able to do what he does best — scoring ridiculous goals, particularly from dead-ball situations —all the while using that rivalry to motivate himself.
Mesut Ozil, MF, Real Madrid
The crafty German midfielder is the man who feeds Ronaldo up top, steering the Madrid attack and spraying the ball out wide. Solid on the ball with great vision, when he is on, Ozil can be a game-changer for Madrid and he can score some ridiculous goals from range. If there’s a knock on him, it’s his tendency to drift in and out of games. He’ll also have to deal with Bayern’s physical defense – they know him well and they know he can be shoved off the ball.
Karim Benzema, F, Real Madrid
The French striker has recovered his form after an indifferent start to the season and now forms one of the deadliest duos in world soccer. Big, strong and fast, Benzema can muscle his way through defenses but has a soft, skillful touch that makes him a hard finisher to stop. If he has a weakness, it is his lack of focus; he sometimes tries to go for the spectacular when the easy is the more prudent option, letting scoring chances go begging.
Philipp Lahm, FB, Bayern Munchen
The Bayern captain is a vital cog at both ends of the pitch, corralling the defense and more often than not jumpstarting the offense. A skilled passer and a demanding field general, the tireless Lahm is most effective when cutting side to side to feed Franck Ribery and Arjen Robben. Considered one of the best tactical minds in the game, his positioning has helped compensate for his lack of size (he’s barely 5’ 7”) and made him one of the best defenders on the planet.
Arjen Robben, W, Bayern Munchen
The mercurial Dutchman can be brilliant or invisible, often in the same game. With Ribery and Mario Gomez, Robben forms one of the most potent attacking triads in all of soccer. When the winger is on, he is nearly impossible to contain, and his signature motion — drifting right to left to uncork a low shot at the net — has been seen so many times, you would think defenders would know it was coming by now. (They do, it’s still impossible to stop.) When he is off…look out. He can sulk his way through a game, take a cheap card or two and do more harm than good. But there’s little question Robben is a genius, maybe even an artist.
Mario Gomez, F, Bayern Munchen
The striker was running hot and cold for a while but with 25 goals under his belt — and 11 so far in this Champions League campaign, second only to Messi — Gomez is a man Real must hope to contain. Agile and powerful, Gomez can both run onto balls to score or create from whole cloth, but he is at his best when getting service from the “Robbery” tandem.